From our man-made environments to the way our workstations are set up, stressors are everywhere when we are on the job. Even our personal situations and attitudes contribute.

Stress-In-A-Nutshell

You may have heard that stress is bad for you; you may have tried things like assertiveness training or mindfulness meditation to help manage the curve balls and hits on your happy little life.  But good things can cause stress, too. This lesser known type is called eustress; like regular stress, eustress may negatively affect your health.

Whether from struggles or celebrations, the effect of stress on your well-being is about how you react.

It starts in the brain, where nerve signals from areas that “specialize” in specific functions tap hormones for their effect. The hormones then trigger temporary changes in your physiology. This is stress-in-a-nutshell.

What Happens “Under the Hood” When You’re Stressed?

With stress comes tension. Tension occurs when muscles contract, and is normal.

What’s not normal is muscles that stay tight. In the 21st century, with its rapid pace and heightened fears, letting go of tension and allowing muscles to relax again can get challenging.

Stretching, meditation and other things can help, but it’s also a mindset, and one that we’ve all but lost in this frenetic world of ours. Sad.

Let’s discuss those ‘ole hormones. Encountering a stressful situation releases a number of hormones that alter physiology in the short term.

In this way, the we are catapulted  into a “fight or flight” state, where hormones trigger a rush of blood, and direct it to life-critical organs. You might experience this temporary state as a racing heart, harder or faster breathing, sweating and more.

In the fight or flight state, much of the blood that normally serves outlying and less important areas like skin, appendages and more, get rerouted to the core of the body, where the organs are. Organs take precedence during times of stress because for millions of years, we humans have relied on them to keep us alive, even on a moment-to-moment basis. Maintaining a beating heart is a prime example.

This shunting of blood away from the extremities and into the core can have an effect on your eyes.

With less blood input into the area of the eyes, eyes may become more sensitive to light, or become dry, fatigued or sore. Your eye muscles may start twitching, as well.

Stress hormones can also hamper your immune system,  a body process charged with keeping you disease-free. In this case, hormone cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal glands, may lead to inflammation in the body. The amount of cortisol builds up with each stress reaction you allow.

It’s common knowledge that many diseases start from a state of inflammation.

Work Related Stress Causes

Ergonomists have identified a number of things they call “psychosocial factors” that can up your stress levels on the job.

The pace at which you have to work is one of them. Unless your job is an absolute snooze, almost literally, the pace of work is classified as “competitive.” If you’re required to keep up with a machine, that’s called “machine-paced,” and is considered very stressful. (And who doesn’t have to keep up with a machine or 20 in this day and age?)

Other psychosocial factors include monotony, repetitive tasks and working in isolation.  All the psychosocial factors can increase your risk for a work related injury, or, at very least make you less productive.

If you’re looking for a solution to the isolation part, consider joining my Facebook Group – Pain Free Living.

For repetitive tasks that have to be done, The State of Washington Department of Labor and Industries suggests taking microbreaks, which they call “recovery pauses.” Essentially, every 1/2 hour to hour, they say, it’s a good idea to stop what you’re doing and engage with a bit of movement. Recovery pauses should last between 1 and 3 minutes, the Department says.

5 Ideas for Microbreaks

  1. Keep a kaleidoscope handy. (Inexpensive ones, i.e., less than $10 each, can be easily found via internet search.) Use your microbreaks use to give your eyes a treat. I’ve found that kaleidoscope use also helps vary the movements eye muscles make, which can be quite refreshing.
  2. Breath deeply into your belly 10 times.
  3. Get up and walk around a bit.
  4. Stretch.
  5. Work on establishing or maintaining neutral sitting posture. This is a position whereby your joints are in good alignment, and muscles can relax.

By the way, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries suggests keeping the timing of microbreaks organic. In other words, don’t force yourself to stick to a rigid microbreak schedule. It might be better to set some reminders (that have the suggestions about what to do pop up in front of you at the targeted times.) This micro break strategy is about you, and your comfort. Otherwise, you could end up creating stress and tension in the process of trying to avoid it.

Sources:
Understanding the stress response. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
WISHA Services Division. Office Ergonomics: Practical solutions for a safer workplace. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. 2002